Forget the all-rounders, bring on the multi-players

Cricket Diary
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The Independent Online

Coaches, pundits and punters alike all bang on these days about all-rounders. Actually, they usually lapse into jargon and call them multi-dimensional cricketers, soon doubtless to be known as mdcs.

Coaches, pundits and punters alike all bang on these days about all-rounders. Actually, they usually lapse into jargon and call them multi-dimensional cricketers, soon doubtless to be known as mdcs.

The present apotheosis of the England all-rounder is Alec Stewart, opening batsman-middle-order-batsman-wicketkeeper extraordinaire. It is as though the whole phenomenon had just been invented.

Well, you want mdcs, The Diary will give you them. This week's column is devoted to the genuine all-rounder.

* First up is the great George Brown, perhaps the top mdc of all time. He should be a legend, yet he is recalled all too infrequently. Brown played for Hampshire between 1908 and 1933 and for England in seven Tests in the early Twenties.

He was as genuine an all-rounder as it is possible to be. He scored 25,649 runs as a left-handed opening or middle-order batsman, he took 626 wickets with right-arm medium pace and was frequently asked to keep wicket, in all gathering 530 victims for his county, 78 of them stumpings. In addition he was, said his Wisden obituary, "a splendid, fearless fieldsman close to the bat".

Brown was wicketkeeper in all his Tests, batted from one to 10 with a top score of 84, had 12 catches and three stumpings but unfortunately never bowled. What an mdc.

* Second on parade is AC Smith, who was to become better known as a diffident chief executive of the Test and County Cricket Board. But in another existence AC, known to some of his colleagues as Penguin, was an mdc.

He, too, kept wicket for England, in six Tests on a tour of Australasia, and if this was an aberration on the part of the selectors his form in 1962 (1,201 runs, 82 wicketkeeping dismissals) gave them a distinct nudge. But Smith also took 131 first-class wickets as a fast medium bowler for Warwickshire at 23.43. Was he a better bowler than a wicketkeeper, one of his colleagues was asked last week? "He was a better anything than a wicketkeeper."

Smith's finest mdc moment came at Clacton in 1965. He was Warwickshire's captain and wicketkeeper and in Essex's first innings duly took two catches. In the second innings one of his new-ball bowlers, Rudi Webster (later to become multi-dimensional in another way since he is now Dr Webster and is occasional psychologist to the West Indies team) was injured.

Smith took off the gloves and within 13 balls had a hat-trick, all to outfield catches, two of them taken by Dennis Oakes, another md sportsman who was a Coventry City apprentice and went on to play for Notts County and Peterborough.

Smith had 3 for 0 off four overs and made it 4 for 0 when the stand-in keeper, Dennis Amiss, caught Trevor Bailey. He finished with 4 for 36 but the match ended in a draw.

* The Hon Alfred Lyttelton was England's wicketkeeper in the first Test to be played in England in 1880 and he was also behind the stumps at The Oval four years later. Not for long. All 11 of England's players bowled and Lyttelton, after taking a catch behind, came on with his lobs. He took 4 for 19, W G Grace, the new wickie, taking a catch behind off his first ball on the second day. They were the only wickets the Hon Alf took in his career.

* It would be remiss not to mention Heathfield Stephenson. He was the first man to take an England team to Australia and probably the first mdc. He was a serviceable batsman, scoring 7,360 runs at 17.90 in the days when runs were hard to come by, took 300 wickets at 16.40 and had 25 stumpings to his credit. Stephenson also umpired the first Test played here.

* Frank Woolley was one of the best all-rounders of all time with 58,959 runs (second only to Jack Hobbs) and 2,068 wickets, 27th on the all-time list. It is a pity but a fascinating curiosity that he was called on as replacement keeper at 47 in his 64th and final Test and conceded a record 37 byes.

* There are other types of mdcs who do not keep wicket. These were epitomised by the 15-year-old Pakistani Muhammad Naeem who, during the Under-15 World Cup, which his side lost in a thrilling finish at Lord's on Thursday, has been bowling with both left and right arm. It was reported during the competition that nobody had ever taken wickets with both arms in first-class cricket. Wrong. In May 1982, a Championship match between Kent and Sussex at Hove was petering out to a draw. On came Kent's opening batsman and occasional off-spinner Charles Rowe.

He duly bowled Geoff Arnold. At school Rowe, always ambidextrous, had sometimes bowled left-arm chinamen. He decided to throw in an orthodox left-arm ball to the Sussex No 11, Chris Waller.

"It was the only ball I bowled in first-class cricket with my left arm and it was a long hop," said Rowe. "The batsman hit it in the air to cover where it was caught. So I've got a 100 per cent record with my left hand."

BOOK MARK

It has to be Alec Stewart's pretty limp England Diary, reissued at the start of the season. "There are still many targets ahead of me," writes the mdc of mdcs, "a hundred Test appearances [done], further progress up the England runs table [impending] and the prospect of winning back the Ashes in 2001 [hmm]. It sounds boring but I just want to go on and on as long as possible."

Man in the middle

He has been England's most consistent, not to say persistent, bowler for the best part of 10 years. He was lion-hearted, still is, and nobody would dispute the theory that he was rejected too early. He is, of course, Angus Fraser (right) and he took nine wickets in a rare Middlesex victory last week, to demonstrate that he still has what it takes. But there is still no mention of Gus in the England fast-bowling frame. This may be a case of long-term planning, but not when most of the other seamers are the wrong side of 30 too. And he also scored 19 when batting at No 10, fully to deserve his entry in this all-rounders' column.

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